NEW BEDFORD — History can accompany a walk through the city. Fort Tabor tells military history in the South End. Downtown resurrects tales from the city’s whaling exploits and its past safe haven for runaway slaves. The North End offers Brooklawn Park, tied to Daniel Ricketson and Henry David Thoreau.

Sprinkled around the landmarks stand century-old fire boxes. In some cases, they show their age as the sun has stripped the boxes of their original bright red color.

The system turned 100. Built in 1917, the fire boxes rely on 100 milliamps of DC power sent to a motherboard of 26 circuits that alert the New Bedford Fire Department on Purchase Street.

Ten decades later, the city has used only 22 of the 26 circuits. The department transitioned to a digital system in 2007, which still uses the antique fire boxes.

A new transition is underway, which provides information never available before to first responders.

“The beauty behind that system is it’s instantaneous,” Fire Chief Michael Gomes said.

Through the first 90 years of the system, the fire boxes used a Morse code-like system to identify the location of a fire.

If a fire box was labeled “3125,” the coils within the box would unwind sending a 3-1-2-5 signal to the firehouse. The signal would be sent to a machine with a large thin spool of paper. A call would spin the spool where a knife would cut into the strip of paper, punching three holes, then one hole, two holes followed by five holes: 3-1-2-5.

Firefighters could then use a directory containing a list of all the fireboxes to determine the location.

The Morse code message only sent the fire department to a location. Any large alarm at a building like a school, hospital or mill forced the department to arrive at the main entrance to gather more information from people on site.

“The (new) radio tells us how many zones in the building, what type of device, and even in some it will tell us the smoke detector that triggered the alarm,” Gomes said.

The chief estimated that 800 fire boxes are scattered around New Bedford. About 500 are found inside of buildings. There are 110 updated radio boxes.

The city is updating to a new system through circuits. The New Bedford Business Park, residing in circuit 15 is nearly complete. Circuit 14 is next.

Priority buildings also received updates as soon as possible.

“One of the issues we have going forward is we have 70 city buildings connected to the system, especially in many of the schools,” Gomes said.

The middle schools have all been updated. Any new construction beginning in 2017 is also required to carry the updated system.

Gomes anticipates a five to six-year window to update the system.

The box costs $4,000 and connects directly to the Fire Department.

When the alarm trips, it sends information including the floor and potentially the exact room where the signal was sent from.

Gomes said this will drastically slice the department’s response time.

“The old boxes were instantaneous as well,” Gomes said. “Except because they were using Morse code, it took longer.”

The new system sends a message to the department’s headquarters detailing what kind of alarm was triggered (fire, smoke, carbon monoxide), in addition to exact location.

The simplified method continues a trend that saves the city money regarding receiving calls.

Gomes said in maintaining the old system, including testing that each box was functioning at 100 milliamps, cost the city upwards of $200,000 with two to four full-time employees.

“It definitely gives us new information,” Gomes said. “We receive far more information. And as far as reliability it’s far more reliable.”